Monday, December 8, 2008
Not So Cute Knut
Soeren Stache/EPA photo
Knut the polar bear became the darling of the Berlin Zoo after his story was picked up by media outlets. Rejected at birth by his mother, Knut was hand raised by zookeeper, Thomas Dorflein. The adorable white ball of fluff became famous. He starred in books and videos. His image emblazoned items from mugs to clothing. Toy companies recreated him in faux furry glory. And visitors to the zoo increased dramatically.
In other words, Knut made a lot of money for a lot of people.
But Knut is no longer a cute little snow white baby with black button eyes. He's 2 years old and growing, approaching 450 pounds. He's cramped for space and cranky. The surrogate who raised him passed away at the age of 44 in September of a massive heart attack. Knut misses him. In fact, it's reported that he's become so accustomed to attention from people that he cries when no one is near his enclosure. Make no mistake, Knut is not a pussy cat. He's a powerful animal that can't be physically close to people. And he has little idea how to interact with his own kind.
Then there's the issue of space. There's no room for a grown up polar bear, so the Berlin Zoo is looking at selling him to another zoo. Would the facilities be any better?
It seems to me that Knut is owed more than that. Instead of being the poster bear of cute, he's become a symbol of what can go wrong when a zoo focuses on publicity and income rather than planning for what should be a highly predictable future.
A future prepared for the time when baby Knut grows up.